Not long ago, I was sitting with a group of fellow rabbis when the conversation turned, as it always does, to Israel, and then Iran and anti-Semitism. We talked about the various proposals for sanctions, and one of my colleagues told us, “Look, the real issue is the centrifuges. And the level of uranium enrichments.”
And I thought, well, this is what it’s come to. Rabbis today in America have to be proficient in the language of Iranian sanctions. Our jobs call on us to understand what centrifuges are, how fast they should spin, how much uranium enrichment matters in making bombs, what sanctions are, how they work, which are effective, which are not. Why? Partly, because our congregants are concerned with these issues. But also because they are existentially important to Israel – Iran does pose a genuine threat — and we love and support Israel.
But largely, it’s because the dominant conversation nowadays in American Judaism is about politics. Mostly it’s Middle Eastern politics: Israel and the Palestinians, the violence in Gaza or the West Bank, or the Lebanese border, or Syria, and, always, Iran. But also European anti-Semitism, and, of course, American politics, but almost only the JStreet/AIPAC issues, which is to say American politics as it effects Israel. I haven’t conducted a scientific survey, but a cursory glance at our important American-Jewish publications: Tablet, Forward, Commentary, Times of Israel, and quick run through my various social media threads shows the extraordinary dominance of politics in our discourse. We talk about little else.
So what? (Some might ask “what else is there?”) For one thing, it crowds out other conversations, other crucial topics. For instance, faith, God, spirituality. I don’t see many lively threads, or lengthy posts on the best ways to connect with God. Or, on related questions like what happens when I die? Or, why, in a crowded world filled with rewarding friendships, I often find myself feeling lonely. Or, what is that strange, still, small voice that whispers to me during prayer or meditation, hinting at mysteries, at a world beyond my grasp? We talk about centrifuges, about the coming Israeli elections, about French Jewry – important topics! But we’ve stopped talking about that still, small voice.
Philip Graubart, “The Victory of Politics Over Spirituality”, The Times of Israel (28 January 2015) [http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-victory-of-politics-over-spirituality/]